Mega-trends in digital marketing: values and trust
Most of today’s marketing is digital. In 2017 a turning point was reached: more money was spent advertising online than on ads on TV. Digital marketing budgets are growing by over 10% per year and traditional budgets by about -1% per year. But beyond spend, what are the behavioural mega-trends in the digital world? How should marketers deal with the changes ahead?
This is Part 1 of a multi-part series. In this article, we'll take a look at the importance of community values, and why brands need to stand for something in the digital world. We'll continue to explore the growth and development of digital strategies in our next article in this series.
Does trust still matter?
I’ve just returned from #INBOUND18, the annual conference on Inbound Marketing sponsored by HubSpot held in Boston every year. It was my fourth attendance. Every year, the theme changes. In 2017 it was automation, chatbots and AI. This year’s theme was pretty clear: think customer experience (CX), think about your brand’s reputation, and think big.
Digital strategies are getting more and more sophisticated, as are the tools. We see it every day in the impact and measurability of the digital strategies that we design and execute for our clients. Interestingly, as digital deployment grows more powerful and influential, it can help companies build better brands by providing relevant help, info and advice when people are searching for it. Brands can make a great product, but that doesn't stop them from being copied. For people to engage with YOUR brand in the long term, they need to feel that your brand stands for something they believe in.
What you say and what you do are totally connected to what your brand stands for. If you achieve a strong emotional connection to your customers and, very importantly, to your fans, you can achieve more, and more persistently, than an ad campaign can improve your brand and reputation. This was the main message from HubSpot co-founder Brian Halligan at INBOUND18: the future will be about delighting your fans to positively influence tomorrow’s customers.
The Funnel is dead, says Brian Halligan. Long live the Flywheel.
This trend doesn’t apply only to for-profit businesses; not-for-profits such as charities, interest groups and no-money organisations need to market themselves – to gain awareness, build reputation, offer value, and delight their fans. The value a brand offers usually goes way beyond the product or service. I’ll call this ‘marketing value’ – values that your brand stands for that are not the product. If your brand does not create value, nor stand for value, nor speak to anyone’s values, then, I’m really sorry, you don’t have a brand.
Here are a couple of stories that illustrate how values are more important than ever to brands and people's choices. Values often transcend what you get from commercial alternatives. To put things in sharp contrast, I’ve purposely chosen situations where people are offered choices between ‘buy’ and ‘make’.
Building things in a world of finished products
I have three children, all of whom are between 20 and 30, and represent a fairly typical slice of modern humanity. As a scientist, marketing nerd and dad, I study them informally to learn about the way Millennials consider their world.
Clearly, my sample is not statistically sound. Anyway, I think their behaviour looks pretty typical of humans of their generation. Hans Rosling’s book ‘Factfulness’ will inform you that living standards in what we previously called 'developing countries' have caught up. Young adults all over the world share similar hopes and aspirations. They watch the same series, they eat the same food, they long for the same things. People from Beulah to Bucharest to Beijing have a common experience of the modern world.
Both my sons are gamers and as part of their cachet, they have built their own computers. It seems like they never stop building them. Of course, they have long rejected the Walled Garden of Apple products, where I have been a prisoner for over 20 years. They lament my lame choice of walking into The Garden willingly and throwing the key over the wall. They, on the other hand, are well read up on what they need to build and upgrade their computers for maximum performance at acceptable prices. It’s a complicated business and not something for the uninitiated. It’s black art and hard technology. My son’s motherboard has been playing up for a while, which really affects his gaming, his work as a musician, and his life. But would he ever move to a closed system? Never.
Just another day in the life of a custom built computer
Why would any sane person accept the strife and the uncertainty of a custom built computer? Because it’s a major component of his or her values. My sons belong to a community called The PC Master Race (sorry about that). Their community’s values: going it on their own, succeeding where others cannot, exceeding the performance of others. My boys are proud to be recognized as valued citizens of the realm.
Sharing knowledge on the Internet is not new. My point is: more and more people readily identify with the values of their online communities, be it custom built computers, climate change, veganism or the alt-right. We want to be with like-minded people. It is deeply ingrained in the behaviour of people in general, and this generation is no different. If their values don’t match, then they have no desire to be a part of that community.
Choosing a ruin instead of the castle
My daughter is 24 and has just completed her engineering and architecture degree. She doesn’t have much money. Yet her sights are firmly set on realising a personal dream: a summer home on the West Coast of Sweden. The properties are way over what she can currently afford… unless she can club together with friends. So, they found a ruin of a house – the old telegraph station – with an astounding view on a beautiful fjord. Together they bought it, and together they are renovating it. Their community values are passive energy design, natural materials and recycled products. Everything they need is within their grasp, or at their fingertips on the web.
Millennials hard at work (not an oxymoron) on their Instagram community page
The explosion of communities of like-minded people – millions of communities around the world with shared passions and interests – is a direct consequence of intimate communications powered by the instant sharing of values, ideas and experiences. I dare say that people choose the values they want to embrace by hanging around the communities they respect the most.
Brands know this, and have adopted values from the trivial to the profound. Consider these: rugged outdoor brands Patagonia and LLBean promise to repair any damaged garment or replace it. The ethical cosmetics retailer The Body Shop have long promoted their stand for beauty without the cruelty of animal testing. Charity:Water pledges to spend every cent of received donations to fund water projects. Most recently, the sports equipment giant Nike launched a message to dream crazy, narrated by Colin Kaepernick, an athlete that made a stand for values that he and millions believe in.
But we have alternative facts
Compare and contrast community and shared values with another major trend: the post-truth era.
People are understandably sceptical of what they hear, see and read. So people tend to trust their chosen communities for their version of the truth, often filtered through the membrane of the community’s echo chamber.
Whether you like it or not, marketers have long recognised the power of values and they do exploit them, for good or ill. This has indeed changed in the digital age; it has become vastly amplified by the likes of Twitter and Facebook.
The argument according to HubSpot co-founder Dharmesh Shah is not to exploit the trust mechanism, but to get leverage to truly create a better brand, to grow better as a company by treating people sustainably, honestly and transparently.
Dharmesh Shah sees the opportunity for digital marketing to grow better business practices
I think that being true to your values is worth pursuing if it helps drive more ethical and honest business practices. In the digital age, trust in brands is essential and valuable, especially since physical touch points between organisations and people are dwindling, and echo chambers are getting louder.
Ask yourself these questions: what are your marketing values? Does it support your community’s values? Are those values sound and sustainable? If not, what can you do to establish values that you can be proud of in the long run?
In the next article, I’m going to discuss the mega-trend of customer experience (CX) that makes values come to life, and makes people truly experience what your brand stands for.